issue #27: futurespective
The interview on Caleido with Patricia Urquiola, Spanish architect and designer, is the cover story of Issue #27, entitled: Futurespective. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary, that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here.
Diary of: @patricia_urquiola
1. What themes/trends are you investigating most intensively in your design research and what are the most interesting conclusions you have come to?
Lately, I have been particularly intrigued by the potential applications of artificial intelligence in our industry. I firmly believe that AI will have a profound impact on our brain, and I anticipate that its disruptive potential will exceed even that of the Internet.
But I believe that innovation in design is not just limited to technology; it is more cultural and social. When we create an object, we are essentially designing something that relates to various dimensions, such as its behavior, function, and evolving needs over time. As designers, it’s crucial to establish close relationships with professionals from various fields, including biologists, artists, engineers, philosophers, among others.
2. What is your personal connection with the past, with archival icons and the so-called “great masters”? How is it combined with experimentation and invention?
I think the Masters worked with natural ease and spontaneity during their time, fearlessly experimenting and pushing boundaries to create timeless objects that have influenced generations of designers. During this year’s Salone del Mobile, Cassina showcased an exhibition called ECHOES, celebrating 50 years of iMaestri, dedicated to the story of 50 years of research, highlighting the work of these great design masters. Cassina is dedicated to preserving the cultural legacy of past designers and reimagining their work through experimentation and innovation. For example, Cassina LAB has reissued iconic designs by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, and Pierre Jeanneret with a more sustainable and conscious approach, using circular materials like recycled PET wadding and bio-based polyols instead of foamed parts to reduce waste.
3. In 2016 you became art director of the Cassina brand. How do you approach a project of this magnitude? What were the first thoughts or insights you remember coming up with between the doors of your studio?
Becoming the artistic director of Cassina in 2016 was a great honor for me. Art direction is a complex job that involves various areas such as production, research, and communication. I always say that I am a Cassina ‘outsider’ or perhaps ‘insider’, as working as both a designer and art director, I bring an outsider’s perspective to the company. Since 2015, we have worked on experimenting with new ideas and challenges through open and calm discussions.
Collaboration with different designers has been very fluid and we have shared ideas and discussions seamlessly. I am proud to work with many talented colleagues I admire, such as @michaelanastassiades, the @ronanerwanbouroullec brothers, @rodolfodordoni, @destroyersbuilders, just to name a few, who bring a brilliant point of view to each project.
4. A personal question. What’s your creative ritual when approaching a new project, -I am thinking for example of the collaboration with @etel.design?- . To shape your vision, do you mentally map everything out or think while writing, drawing, or sketching?
Before starting a project, I like to thoroughly research and understand the company, including their brand, users, and products. I strive to evolve with the brands I work with by experimenting, challenging myself and the company, as well as the materials and production. I enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone and learning with each new project. My aim is to connect people with their spaces and create an emotional memory. Additionally, our creative process has recently been exploring new ways of working, rethinking the entire production cycle from early stages to transportation.
5. In the realm of design, there are two distinct scales to consider: architecture and product. How do these two worlds, each reflecting different aspects of our society and history, intersect with one another in your experience? How has this intersection evolved over time?
I think that time, culture, and human behavior all influence both architecture and product design. The relationship between these two fields has evolved over time, with each one influencing the other. In my experience, I’ve always seen a connection between architecture and product design, and I enjoy working on projects that involve both large and small scales. In my studio, the architecture and design teams collaborate closely and often find solutions that benefit both disciplines. Sometimes, while working on a design project, I even discover architectural solutions and vice versa.
6. Your sense of aesthetics often revolves around your personal well-being. Can you share a particular ritual or place that brings you joy and comfort? And how do you share those positive feelings with those around you?
My preferred getaways revolve around my love for nature and deep affection for certain places. The closest escape is Hotel Il Sereno on Lake Como, one of our projects. The combination of serene waters and lush green mountains has a profound impact on me. Another favorite retreat of mine is the Atlantic beaches of my childhood in Asturias, with its rugged coastline, powerful waves, towering cliffs and endless stretches of deserted beaches. However, if I am seeking a more distant escape, I find myself drawn to a hotel construction site in Japan, where I can enjoy a beach view of Mount Fuji. Regardless of the location, water is a constant and essential element of my getaways.
7. While researching for this interview, I came across a headline that referred to you as “The heir to the great masters of Italian design” and recognized globally for your talent. I won’t ask if you agree with this statement, but instead, I’m curious to know what aspects and principles of your work you believe will be remembered in the future?
The codes of my work come from the teaching I had from the great Italian Masters.
From Vico Magistretti (@fondazionemagistretti) I learned the value of mistakes, experimenting, daring and breaking boundaries. With the help of technology, I love to experiment with materials that allow me to keep pushing the boundaries to things that seem impossible to achieve. Getting out of his comfort zone, the friction caused by resistance is what encourages societies to think creatively. In my work, barriers are often broken, and prejudices ignored.
Achille Castiglioni (@fondazioneachillecastiglioni) taught me to always establish “the fundamental element,” to grasp the heart, the meaning around which each project revolves, building an empathic connection with the user who will eventually interact with my designs. Empathy becomes the focal point for understanding user relationships and needs.
The last point I cherish is the one that drives me to find solutions for an optimistic future by defending all kinds of diversity to overcome all kinds of gaps whether gender, social, class, or thought.
8. I recently attended to the “DIVIA Award – Diversity in Architecture”, which celebrates responsible architecture projects created by women architects. What do you believe are the biggest challenges, if any remain, in achieving true gender equality in the field of architecture? Also, are there any issues that you feel particularly close to your heart?
When I first began working in design, the industry was heavily dominated by men. However, Milan, the city where I worked, was always welcoming to diverse communities. I remember Gae Aulenti, a female designer, didn’t want her femininity to define her work. Similarly, I didn’t want my gender or nationality to define me. I also used that method out of fear, I was woman and Spanish, I didn’t know which one represented me more. Focusing on my abilities as a designer helped me find my rhythm. Though progress has been made towards gender equality, there is still much work to be done. I believe we should prioritize individuals’ skills, professionalism, and abilities over their gender identity.
9. Throughout your career, you have explored a wide range of design disciplines, including hotels, carpets, shoes, exhibition design, curating, directing, and pure design. Is there a particular area of design that you’re interested in exploring further and experimenting with?
I have numerous dreams and projects in mind, and I find the world of wearable technologies particularly fascinating. However, as I previously mentioned, digital media also presents exciting new opportunities and perspectives. Generally, I believe that the work of architects and designers is currently undergoing a significant transformation. We are closely observing society and adapting to its changes. In the future, I anticipate that we will not only design physical spaces, but more importantly, new ways of behaving.
10. What is an item in your home that holds sentimental value and you could never go without? Can you share the story behind it? Would you mind sharing with us a photo you took of it?
I have many of them. I have a collection of items in my home, which includes furniture and some prototypes that I cherish.
If I had to choose, I would say the Nuvola Rossa bookcase designed by Vico Magistretti for Cassina holds a special place in my heart. Magistretti, along with Achille Castiglioni, was my mentor and I wanted to own one of his pieces. I have placed the bookcase in front of my lunch table for its significance.
All images are taken from the interviewee’s Instagram account, and are an integral part of the interview’s editorial storytelling. See the interviewee’s Instagram account for full credits.